Friday, August 19, 2011

Camping pictures

Phaedra would paddle til her arm fell of if it meant she didn't have to sit in the bottom of the wet canoe.

Nico liked the canoe

Sylvie likes her kayak
Nico preferred sleeping in someone's sleeping bag.

View from the hammock
A hammock is just the place to be.

Filtering water from the lake might teach you to not pee in the water.

Off for a swim!

Sylvie made many discoveries.

Campsite number 2


Long, long ago, when I was in grade school, my family, as in the extended, loud, teeminging bunch of us, went camping. My memories from that first camping adventure involve my brother's fish my aunt cooked up for him, my mother's INCREDIBLE sunburn, my complete unwillingness to eliminate in anything that wasn't porcelain, and riding on the running board of my aunt's VW Bug.

Then, I went to church camp twice, and that was kind of fun, except that the girls in my church really did not like me, or were afraid of me, or something. No one actually talked to me for the two separate weeks I spent at camp. And still, I remember having fun. There was lots of swimming and singing and chiggers and, since it was church camp, PANTS in Texas in June. Who thought that was a good idea!!!

The camping trip from hell did not happen until college. That trip taught me to never go camping unless you have enough time to actually do it. One night of camping is like... well, I'm short on metaphors, but it's alot of work to camp, but pretty much the same amount of work whether you camp one night or five. I also learned on that trip to do whatever it takes to sleep warm; no one is pleasant if they have to sleep cold.

There were a couple of planned, and one kind of successful, camping trips with my extended family, as in all the breeding cousins. That's when it became obvious that I have a rain jinx. If there is a drought, all I have to do is plan a camping trip. It will rain even if there is no rain in the forecast. It might rain so much that three tents completely full of wet, crying children and wet, sleepless adults might show up at my aunt's house wondering if she has breakfast or at least a dry match.

Jason and I were determined that we actually like to camp, despite many disasters, wet, cold and otherwise. We were certain that we are just camping people. And finally in Vermont, we found out we were right.

Our first summer here, we spent fifteen nights outside. We cooked over a fire and dealt with a crying baby in a campground. We spent three nights on an island in Lake Champlain, we canoed in Lake Elmore, we made our poor boxer sleep in a tent, we let our children run around naked. We got rained on. Then, we did all again the next summer and the next.

The past two summers, we did not camp. One summer we were busy settling into a new house and the next, we were learning about our cow. This summer, the cow is dry because she's expecting a calf in October, so I took all three kids camping.

Sylvie can really swim.

Ezra also swims, but contemplates, too.

Nico came; he was a great camper.


Rocks to jump off of.

Of course, it was all beautiful with loons, and morning mists.

Then there was the desperate search for someone to hekp me make the stove work so I could have coffee.
The day there was no coffee.

Thinking about coffee.

 Then there was just general camping stuff- uncomfortable tent, canoeing, kids playing, in the water, out of the water, canoeing some more, switching campsites, etc. Those pictures will go in the next post!
Coffee is coming!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some More Canning

Late yesterday afternoon, Phaedra wandered through the kitchen and muttered behind my back, "I hate canning!" I laughed and explained the difference between being tired of something and hating something. I'll tell you, by late afternoon, I was tired of canning, too.

I finally got the first batch of tomatoes canned. I made them into marinara, and there was a three-day-long journey to completing that. Those twenty-some-odd pounds of tomatoes that I shuffled around for three days made only six quarts of marinara. And then, due to user error, two of the jars did not seal. I did use the Tattler lids, but I did not give them the extra tightening the instructions mention. Otherwise, those lids have worked just fine.

I canned 20 more pounds of peaches. The children helped me. If you can peaches, do blanch them to peel them. I did one batch without blanching, because blanching just seemed like too much of a bother. The next time, Jason was helping, so we blanched them. It was worlds easier. So, yesterday, I also blanched them. A side benefit is that the skin sloughs off so easily, even Sylvie can help peel peaches without worrying about damaging fruit. I did this batch in slices, mostly in pint jars. I figure these will be snack sized jars for the kids to share.

The sad thing was, I broke two jars of peaches in the canner. Also user error.

I canned some rhubarb jam. It's kind of unattractive, because I use the whole stalk, not just the red part. But it tastes fantastic.

I canned some salsa verde. It was very tasty and a little zippy fresh. I've found that the salsas tend to be milder after canning, so this one might just be a bright flavor and not so spicy. It still tastes good. I like it especially because so many of the ingredients came from our garden. I planted more herbs this year, and the salsa and marinara reflect my growing repertoire.

And lastly, I have a product to warn people against. Ball has something called  dissolvable labels, which I bought so I could tell the difference between salsa verde, pickle relish, and rhubarb jam. Sadly, the sticky part of the label did not stay with the paper part. When I peeled the label from the backing, the paper came away and the sticky part remained on the backing. Very irritating.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chappy's Dead

There are no pictures.

So, the fellow came and we were gathering the materials, and I went to put the dogs in the house to keep them out of the way. And there was a shot. Just one.

When I made it to the house, Sylvie was standing by the front door; she asked, "Is Chappy dead?" After I said yes, she asked, "Aren't you excited?"

And I guess I am a little excited that our freezer will be full of meat that we raised right here. I do like having cuts of meat that I would never buy. I like feeling like we have an endless supply of one of my favorite instant foods- ground beef.

I'm also a little sad. But that wasn't going to get the job done today.

I saw how big a heifer's stomach is relative to her body. In my head, roughly half of my torso has intestines curled back and forth filling the cavity. In a chicken, I know there is a surprising amount of intestine in such a little body. Now, imagine if you will a cow, big squarish torso. Now fill at least half of that enormous cavity with stomach. It was amazing.

Also, a cow's liver is an unbelievable size; it must weigh between 15 and 20 pounds.

I got to watch how to dress a cow before taking it to be hung. The meat will hang for about 2 weeks in a refrigerated locker, then it will be cut up and ready for our freezer.

Finally, I will say that Violet is very disturbed. Maybe I am projecting, but I don't think so. She's sad. Her face is covered in tears. And I'm sorry for my part in the food chain, but not sorry enough to quit eating meat. I do not feel any remorse for killing Chappy; it was quickly done after a very pleasant, uneventful life. I do wish there was a way to make it easier on Violet.

Flowers for Memory

I planted two varieties of flowers this summer to honor two ladies I miss dearly.

Here are the gladiolas I planted, so the children will know what my mother's favorite flowers looked like.

And I planted four o'clocks, because my friend Janet once told me how much she liked them.
I find it funny, because the contrast of the flowers also reminds that I loved different things about each lady.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Canning and Beautiful Things

I'm very practical and not overly interested in "decoration". However, when I have to interact with something steadily, I do enjoy it being a pleasure to look at and deal with. I prefer wooden knitting needles, for example, because they are pretty and functional; I do not mind that they are a bit slower to knit with. On the other hand, I do not have decorative knitting needles because in my experience, the decorations interfere with the function.

I recently went searching for pretty canning lids. There is a stretch of time in the summer when my canning supplies take a prominent position in my days. Then, all winter, I get to bask in the pleasing beauty of our garden in glittering canning jars. So, I thought to increase the pleasure of this endeavor by having nice canning lids.

I did not find canning lids like I had in mind, but I did discover that the regular Ball or Kerr canning lids have a plastic coating that contains BPA. I guess I should have realized this before, but I did not. In the discussion of this, I discovered Weck jars. They are really beautiful, but prohibitively expensive, especially if you already have an adequate stash of canning jars. Jason and I decided that we would just buy a few a year, as we always buy a few jars to replace ones that have gotten damaged or been given as gifts.

And what better thing to try out these jars on than peaches- one of the prettiest things we can.
Here we have half and quarter liter Weck jars beside half-pint and pint Ball jars. That gives you an idea of size. And that's peach butter, blueberry jam (syrup), strawberry jam, and ginger peach jam. Yum!

And finally, a word about this book:

It's a good book with good recipes. It isn't as paranoid as many canning books; the author's goal is not to scare you away from canning. And maybe you don't agree with me, but I think many, many books and extension agency pamphlets want to convince you that you WILL die from botulism if you foolishly decide to put your own food by.

The problem with this book is that a few recipes just fail. And nothing is as frustrating as eight quarts of blueberry jam that just won't gel. Yep, that's right, the jam I cooked for HOURS did not set. On further investigation, I think her recipe is FAR short (at least half the amount) of the amount of sugar required to do no-added-pectin jam. If you have never had jam not set, just trust me when I say it will make me sad all winter even as we enjoy the blueberry syrup that was supposed to be jam.